He’s become famous as a thinking man’s action hero, but in his personal life, Liam Neeson’s favorite kind of activity is bonding with his boys at a sporting event.

The dedicated dad and his sons, Micheál, 20, and Daniel, 19, were recently spotted cheering on the home team at a New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden. “They are a big sports family,” a friend tells Closer. “Liam loves to take the boys to Knicks basketball and Rangers hockey games.”

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Liam and his sons Micheál and Daniel at a Rangers game.

It’s been a long, slow road back to happiness from their devastating loss in March 2009, when Liam’s wife of nearly 15 years, Tony-winning actress Natasha Richardson, died at age 45 after
hitting her head during a skiing lesson in Canada.

RELATED: We Never Thought Liam Neeson Would Say THIS About His Late Wife, Natasha Richardson!

In the aftermath, Liam and the kids struggled through dark times. “I was drinking too much. It started since my wife died,” confided Liam, who ultimately gave up alcohol in 2013.

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Natasha’s mother, formidable Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave, was also “an absolute godsend,” says the friend, and Liam’s “secret weapon” in his efforts to keep his boys’ lives as normal as possible. “It was and continues to be a heartbreaking experience for them, but they’ve managed to do their best.”

To read the full story on Liam, pick up the new issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now!